Transcript, Meeting 15 Session 2


December 18, 2013


Washington, D.C.


Terrence J. Sejnowski, Ph.D.
Francis Crick Chair, Professor and Laboratory Head, Computational Neurobiology Laboratory
Salk Institute for Biological Studies Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Distinguished
Professor, Section of Neurobiology/Neurosciences
University of California, San Diego
Christof Koch, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Officer
Allen Institute for Brain Science
Miyoung Chun, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President of Science Programs
The Kavli Foundation

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DR. WAGNER: Commissions seated, I believe our three panelists are ready to go.


DR. WAGNER: I think that's everyone. We're missing John -- oh, no, I see John right there. So why don't we get going.


DR. WAGNER: At our last meeting, prior meeting in Philadelphia, representatives from the NIH, the NSF, DARPA, they joined us for a discussion about ethical issues that their agencies encounter in neuroscience research. Today in this session, we're going to talk about, and hear from some private sector partners, also engaged in the BRAIN Initiative.

We invited representatives here from Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Kavli Foundation, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. We're pleased that all but one of those could join us.

The format of this session is a little bit different from other sessions that we have run, and that's because we have seeded a question to our panelists, and that question being, how does your institute currently address ethical issues related to neuroscience research?

Following remarks from each of our panelists, I'm sure we'll have plenty of time for discussion with our speakers, and the ethical -- about the ethical issues that they face, and how they're dealing with those.

Our first speaker is Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, who's here on behalf of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He serves as the Francis Crick Chair, professor and laboratory head of the computational neurobiology lab. Dr. Sejnowski is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a distinguished professor in the section of neurobiology and neurosciences at the University of California San Diego, where he is also co-director of the Institute for Neurocomputation and co-director of the National Science Foundation Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center.

He's a member of the IOM, Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Engineering. That triple distinction is very rare. He's a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Cognitive Science Society. We're really delighted to have you here, Dr. Sejnowski, please.

Just hit your button there on the panel.

DR. SEJNOWSKI: Well, thank you for giving me this opportunity. How much time do I have left?


DR. SEJNOWSKI: Okay. I see you smiling. Okay.

Yes, first of all, just as a preface, I served on the working group of the advisory committee to the director of NIH and just yesterday the NIH announced the request for proposals based on our recommendations. And one of the core principles in our interim report was the importance of integrating ethical considerations, and I'm really pleased that the Commission here is taking this up.

So I want to focus on a particular topic that is of great importance right now with the Salk Institute. We're having a faculty discussion on, and as you'll see, we're having a symposium tomorrow that's going to focus on this. So this is particularly timely. And this has to do with the use of genetic models in neuroscience research.

We can now manipulate the genes with using recombinant DNA techniques and transgenic approaches. And this has been extremely important, not just in neuroscience but in all of biology to be able to understand pathways, cancer, and now we're going to be able to selectively manipulate specific neurons in the brain. The brain is very heterogeneous, and so just throwing a drug at it often isn't as effective as being able to selectively target specific types of neurons that we know may well be going awry.

Now we've done that in a number of animals, and flies, at the Genome Farm at Howard Hughes. Our focus there is on flies, zebra fish and at the Allen, you'll be hearing about mice.

Now these are very useful, but there are some behaviors that humans have that we -- that aren't represented in these other species and in particular higher cognitive functions. And for that reason, the Salk has made a major investment in non-human primates. And specifically, the Macaque, because its visual system is very, very similar to that of ours. We're very -- primates in general but humans in particular are very visual animals. Half our cortex is devoted to vision, and that's something that we've been studying now for over 60 years.

And we know a lot about the visual system, but it's true that there are other parts of the brain that are equally important. The prefrontal cortex, planning, there are many, many other areas that we need to explore.

Now we do not have right now a monument primate model that is genetically amenable. That is to say it's impractical, the live for too long and it takes too long to be able to have a generation produced. But this is changing. There are species of monkeys, like Marmosets and Dwarf Lemurs that are small. They have very fast gestation time and there are new molecular techniques for recombinant -- recombination such as talons and crispers that allow us to be much more efficient in being able to insert genes in specific parts of the genome.

What this means is that all of the tools and technology that have come online that have helped us for the mouse are going to become available over the next few years, next ten years for the BRAIN Initiative. And this is going to raise a number of issues that I think this Commission really ought to take a closer look at.

The symposium that is being sponsored by the Craig Jacobs Center for Theoretical and Computational Biology by direct, we're putting together members in this area who are already undergoing the research in Tokyo, in Shanghai, in Boston and at the Salk Institute. We'll be meeting to discuss these issues, including ethical issues. This is really a good time for us to consider, you know, what the implications are because we're talking about our cousins, not a mouse that we perhaps don't identify with. But you know, the -- when we come close to humans, we have our -- a lot of our capabilities, this is something that I think needs to be addressed.

Now finally, there's one other issue, and I want to bring this up, and this is very, very important. It has to do with the fact that we need to get -- as researchers, we're doing this research where we're on the cutting edge, and we really don't know where it's going to take us. We need to have the backing of our institutions.

I have friends at the universities who have not been backed by their universities and institutions when animal licensing activists have attacked them. In fact, I have a friend at UCLA who basically has shut down his research as a consequence because his family was threatened. And I think it's incredibly important that we really -- as we start into the research on genetically manipulating non-human primates, that we do this with utmost ethical standards. And that not only this Commission, but I think the President has to back this and explain to the public why this is important for understanding our brain and for being able to help it when it breaks down. And I think that this is the right time to start thinking about this.

Thank you.

DR. WAGNER: Thank you.

And our next -- we'll go through all of you and come back and have questions. Our next speaker is Dr. Christof Koch. He's the chief science officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science where he is leading a ten-year large-scale effort to build brain observatories to map, analyze and understanding the cerebral cortex.

Dr. Koch has authored more than three hundred scientific papers, five books and eight patents. His latest book is "Consciousness, Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist." That sounds fascinating. Yeah, it's a great title.

Previously, Dr. Koch was professor of biology and engineering at Cal-Tech. Thank you for joining us.

DR. KOCH: Thank you very much, Jim.

Yeah, Consciousness will be the topic that I choose to focus on. But first, something about the Allen, who we are. Through an independent non-profit research organization that supports basic neuroscience, we started in 2003 by Paul and Jody Allen. We're dedicated to open science, and what we've done in the last ten years, we've made a number of atlases, six atlases to be precise, available to show the distribution of genes of all the 20,000 genes in the developing mouse, the adult mouse, the developing non-human primate, the adult human primate, the developing human, and the human brain. It's a couple of terabytes data, and all of it's available freely without any commercial or without any restriction whatsoever. In fact, all of this data is available prior to publication.

We're very much a project-focused, milestone driven, so we're somewhere between biotech and academia. We have large-scale -- it's not large with respect to some, but it's large with respect to academic universities. We'll have a couple hundred people focusing on one or two projects, focusing on the mouse and on human.

So ultimately our vision is focused on cell types, similar to the announcement that Terry just referred to the by NIH yesterday. We focused on cell types, and so the great discover over the last 20 years in neurobiology has been that there are not just two types of cells, but there are hundreds of different unique cells that have unique identities and unique connectivities. And in order to understand the brain, we need to understand these individual cell types, both in animal models, such as the mouse, as well as in human. And this is what we seek to do, by building these large-scale observatories, where we can observe large-scale neural activity in real time across entire brain.

There are sort of five ethical consideration that we have identified over the years, and I want to focus on the last two, because I think there are some really new emerging ones that I would urge the Commission to consider. So first of all, there are -- we do these experiments in behaving rodents, and so you have the usual ethical consideration that we all know about.

We do a lot with human material, so we work with post-mortem human brain material so that the issues of identification and privacy. We work with prenatal human tissues, the same issues of privacy and what to do if any of the information allows people to identify the donor. Then we use surgical excised tissue and then human stem cells that develop into large neural networks that raise potential ethical problems.

So common to all of this use of human tissue is informed consent, and it's been adequate communication with benefits and risks of research for the donor and his or her immediate family. There is the issue of privacy or loss of privacy, the public availability of genome and genetic information throughout the brain could potentially lead to a loss of privacy, and potentially that you would be able to identify the donor and any source of the pathology. So

there has to be concern about that and there has to be concern about communication with the next of kin and other surviving family members if that happens.

There are sort of one or two unique ethical issues that come up here, so what we do now, it's only done -- it's only rarely done during neurosurgery, particular for tumor surgery as well as for epileptic surgery. Sometimes the neurosurgeon, in order to access deep tissue has to remove overlaying parts of the brain which are healthy. So what you -- so in principle, you can take a piece of tissue, it can be small as a tip of a finger, it can be as big as a finger, or sometimes it can be the entire temporal lobe or some other part of the lobe, so it can be as big as a fist.

So this tissue in principle can be dropped -- and we're doing it now -- into sort of a bath, and then in principle, you can cut it and you can do all the standard electrophysiological experiments on it, including imaging. So the advantage of it, you have a piece of brain that used to be in a living donor, but you can now study -- it's a human brain, it's not an animal brain, so you can study its properties, which is, of course, extremely interesting. Because usually, for obvious reasons, we don't have access to the cellular level evolution in humans.

You can potentially cultivate these to have a so-called chronic culture. Nobody's done that yet because of technological problems. So in principle, we can keep this tissue alive. But now, but if you turn it into long-term culture, you could keep it alive for at least days. Typically there is no organized logic or normal activity in this tissue anymore, so it's not active by itself. But typically what you have to do, you have inject current in order to observe electrical behavior.

Now we, of course, all know ultimately with human stem cells, and we do since a number of years, surgery stem cells, either from approved human stem cell lines that have been approved by NIH or from so-called adult stem cells where we can take from any volunteer, we can, you know, take a snippet of skin cells and de-differentiate them and then add for conscription factors and turn them into neurons.

So now in principle, what we can do, what other people have done, in particular a spectacular publication that made the headlines coming out of Yenna by a group of (inaudible) a couple of months ago where they developed so-called algonoids. So these are tissues, this is human tissue now from -- in this case, it was the H-9 cell line, but in principle you can do this from any volunteer. So you now have, in a dish, a couple of square millimeter that showed layered organization similar to what it is in our cortex. Some of them showing electrical activity.

So my expertise, what I've worked on over the last twenty years is the physical and neuron basis of consciousness. So here potentially, there's this ethical issue that we may have a million cells, or ten million cells, and in future maybe fifty or a billion cells. I'd suggest a question of getting the cultural commission right, you have to do -- you have to cultivate them in

a three-dimensional medium. And so if you get electrical activity, spontaneous electrical activity in this tissue, sometimes you can obtain.

The question we have to begin to ask ourselves, at what point does sentience emerge? At what point does it feel like something to be this network? That's what our conscious is. It feels like something to be conscious.

And do we have any -- right now, there's -- nobody thinks about this, most people think this is just -- this is too far out, but I think it's time to think about what sort of electrical activity -- we do know in healthy people, we do know in patients, some of the electrophysiological current for consciousness. There are particular types of waves, feed oscillation, gamma oscillation, ignition, P-300, et cetera. There's a whole set of -- there's a whole range of electrophysiologic criteria.

The question is, we may not see this criteria in this tissue, because obviously it's sort of -- it's grown in a very different way. But still, we need to begin to think about a question of sentience in dish.

And with that, I would like to thank you.

DR. WAGNER: That's dropping a very provocative thought. Thank you. I'm sure we're going to get back to that.

Our next speaker, final speaker for this panel is Dr. Miyoung Chun. She is the executive vice president of Scientific Programs, the Kavli Foundation. She began her academic career as an assistant professor of biochemistry and a member of the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute at Boston University School of Medicine. She then worked as a scientist and project leader at Millennium Pharmaceuticals.

But before -- and before joining the Kavli Foundation, Dr. Chun served as an assistant dean of science and engineering at University of California, Santa Barbara, serving the California Nanosystems Institute in particular. There she was also appointed the director of international research advancement, playing an active role in building partnerships among academia, government and industry.

Welcome to you, Dr. Chun.

DR. CHUN: Thank you very much for the invitation.

And as an immigrant of this country, and now a U.S. citizen, I'm really honored to be speaking at Presidential Commission.

The Kavli Foundation's mission is to augment science through science programs. And we support research activities through our Kavli institutes and professors. It's an international foundation where we have seventeen Kavli Institutes around the world, eleven in

the U.S., three in Europe and three in Asia. We focus on four fields, theoretical physics, astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.

We also have science programs that are all revolving around different mediums. Collaboration with Academy, and we have collaborations with scientific societies at their annual meetings, and we have our own meeting program, Kavli Future Symposia, and we have our own meeting place, which is called Kavli World Society Center. I mention all these different program that we have because we think that the Kavli Foundation play a very critical role in developing the BRAIN Initiative through utilizing all of our Kavli programs, through our meeting site and where first idea to have this BRAIN Initiative had come. And so I wanted to mention that.

And through those activities, of course in April 2nd of this year, President announced a BRAIN Initiative as the next great American project. He emphasized this initiative is for providing scientists the tools that they need to make difference in brain research.

There are more than six hundred diseases in the nervous system, and this vast number of diseases going from ALS to brain tumors to epilepsy, variety of memory disorders, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's and stroke. I'd like to mention a comment by Tom Insel who is the director of the National Institute for Mental Health, that it's known that there's a huge decrease in death rate among heart diseases, sixty-three percent, due to its better early detection. But that's not existing in many of the neurosystem diseases. So this is something that I think we should really remember, that many disorders not only have cure but there's hardly any treatments. So this is a huge conundrum.

Instead of giving laundry list of different stories that I'm hearing from among the scientists who work at the Kavli Institute, I thought that I will showcase about three different specific issues, ethical issues that's much more pertinent to the BRAIN Initiative, and perhaps this Commission.

President Obama mentioned during his State of the Union when he mentioned BRAIN Initiative for the first time, he mentioned that it will be important for this initiative to really tackle and help difficult diseases such as Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's Disease has had great intense research period past twenty years, and yet given such good results out of research about one billion worth of clinical trial led to effective drug treatment.

And the current thinking is that the reason that we had not been successful in those drug trials is because we were treating those patients too late, that early intervention is going to be very important. Major stumble block for that is the absence of tools to reveal the first expression of this disease.

We know a lot about what's called macroscopic and microscopic changes in this disease, but what we really need and we think what we can do now with the BRAIN Initiative

effort will be to get better imaging capacity, understanding what's called mesoscopic brain circulatory change observation. And these advance are going to make big difference in understanding this disease. It will help provide better biomarkers so that we can detect diseases much earlier, perhaps even before it would happen. And then also we can use that for drug trials so we know if our drug is working or not. So these are great things about what BRAIN Initiative can do for Alzheimer's Disease.

But things are much more complex than just that. So I want to talk a little bit about a scenario here, and that comes from this picture where there's a mother who is 82 years old, and she's taking care of her daughter Mia who's sitting in the back here who is 61 years old, and her son who is sitting in the other room who is 55 years old. Another son who is 50 years old who is not showing. And so she is taking care of three middle-aged children. What's wrong with this picture? Eighty-two-year-old elderly is taking care of her middle-aged kids.

It's the state of this Colombian family who are the largest family to experience early onset Alzheimer's, extended to over five thousand people who live in very -- tucked away in Colombia. They have early onset Alzheimer's Disease by having the very specific gene mutation, and so they -- here is an example where you know to depict who's going to get Alzheimer's at the age of 45. This deadly very terrible disease.

The problem is that there's no treatment. So the ethical issue here is then to diagnose those people or not? And so I can also mention some personal stories about those patients, and how they see whether they should be diagnosed or not, but because of time constraint I'm going to move on and talk a little bit about next step.

And that is there's good news for this family now, is that there are preventative treatment drug trial, and who could be better than this group of people who we know are ready who is going to get Alzheimer's Disease wand when? So good news is that there are clinical trials called Alzheimer's Prevention Initiative where three hundred of these family members are involved in clinical trial, and some of them are as early as 30 years old, and they're going to now be treated with specific monoclonal antibody drug from Genome Tech. NIH is actually supporting this endeavor for the next five years.

Problem now then is another ethical issue, being that the majority of these participants already do know that they will get Alzheimer's at certain age. Should we now then use them as a placebo? So these are the kinds of, I think, ethical issues that we should be very conscientious about.

Another issue that I want to briefly mention is that in BRAIN Initiative, I think that world technology will play extremely important role, and good example is deep brain stimulation. The one that we see here is a woman who has had stroke for past 15 years and couldn't move at all. But here now, her having the small chip in her -- deep in her brain, and it can now make her think and in doing so she can move this robotic on and drink her morning

coffee. And this is first time that she was able to drink her coffee, look how happy she is. She is -- it's remarkable how small stimulation limbers the neurons in an entire brain to make this unbelievable effect on patients.

Having said that, there are -- if you look at the top of her head, she must have these large probes on her head, and behind here is huge stack of computers. So we hope that through BRAIN Initiative, we will have such patients now sitting in his own kitchen, drinking a water or a coffee or whichever, the beverage of his choice, by having a small sort of instrument, and then having the computer size of -- on his belt for like iPhone. These are great possibility, and the reality that can be possible with BRAIN Initiative probably --

DR. WAGNER: We really need you to wrap up, Doctor.

DR. CHUN: Yes, this is my last slide.

DR. WAGNER: Okay, thank you.

DR. CHUN: Problem is that these kinds of activities are perceived in public as manipulating the brain. And I just mention this one YouTube commercial that I was seeing on the way here in the airplane, and that is, here is our scenario where surgeon is manipulating some patient and trying to do what he hopes that he can conceive.

And so these are the ethical issues that you should, I think, be very aware.

Thank you.

DR. WAGNER: Thank you. Thanks to all three of you, in fact.

Let me open with an observation, and that is that we have conversation -- the presentations you made ranged from issues of brain structure and physiology to disease. And of course, President Obama mentions that range in the BRAIN Initiative, although it appear that the brain, that the product, the initial product of the BRAIN Initiative is to be more around structuring physiology, as I understand it, anyway.

Are the -- what are the common ethical questions that we need to ask, or common ethical principles? Or do you imagine that, because a scientist is working on structuring physiology, that they have different ethical responsibilities than those working on either disease or behavior areas?

DR. SEJNOWSKI: So I think this was already mentioned last panel, which is that, you know, the liver doesn't think, or maybe it does, it just can't talk.

By virtue of having a brain, you have a memory. By virtue of having a memory, you have a personal narrative. And these are the things that are devastated by Alzheimer's and we are trying to understand what goes wrong. In order to do that, we need to go to the

physiology, and we need to be able to develop these new neural techniques. And that makes it a very much more challenging enterprise than helping the heart or the liver, all, you know, important for saving lives. But somehow when you start tinkering with the brain, people get a little bit more concerned because it's really tinkering with who you are. And that's I think something that we're all grappling with.

DR. WAGNER: So you don't imagine that dealing at the structure level obviates that responsibility to it being -- into imagining the larger function of the brain saying, I'm just doing cellular physiology at that level?

DR. KOCH: No, not at all.

DR. WAGNER: Good. Go ahead.

DR. KOCH: No, not at all. It's one of the previous speakers emphasize -- you know, we have three levels of responsibility as scientists, to our own science and the science funding directly those we are responsible for, to our field and to society at large.

And as Terry said, the functional brain is the one that gives rise to sensation, to feelings, to pain and pleasure, and this is what people care about. This is their life. I mean, your active brain, not your inactive brain, not the structure brain, but your active brain is who you are. Everything you think, everything you desire, everything you want is your active brain. And so therefore, this is ultimately what it comes down to.

And so there are a few ethical considerations that apply there, that are different if you study the brain or the liver.

DR. FARAHANY: Thank you for these presentations which are extremely helpful.

One of the things I've been hearing a good bit about is the structure of the BRAIN Initiative itself. And thinking about whether or not it is a good scientific approach, that is taking a bottom-up approach of starting with circuitry and mapping as opposed to a top-down approach starting with theory and driving the theory. And a concern that, while ideally you'd be able to do both, in reality is the limited funding that starting from the bottom up limits the amount of funding you can have from the top down.

So is there anybody that can comment a little bit about it, since you are all so deeply involved, about whether or not you think this is a scientific approach likely to help us with some of the larger phenomenons that we're really interested in in addressing the brain?

DR. KOCH: The atoms of perception, the atoms of memory in neurons, there may well be thousand or more different types of neurons, and we need to know -- we need to have a complete description of them. We need to know how many there are, we need to

know -- I mean, think about your brain being a hundred billion lego blocks of a thousand different types. And unlike lego which is universal now, in other words, every building block fits onto every other building blocks. We know that the two-by-two blue stone only fits on the three-by-five green stone. And those rules are important for memory, and it looks like that many diseases are very specific to specific cell types.

So what we need, we need a detailed cellular level resolution, which we don't have access to if -- you know, if you study the brain from the outside using EG or FMRI or other such tissue techniques. But at the same time, we also need theoretical-- we need theories, we need theoretical concepts to try to map this incredible heterogeneous network that we have difficulty conceptually dealing with. We need to marry it with the appropriate tool for information from mathematics and from physics.

But those things are happening right now, there's a very lively field of computational neuroscience, it's heavily involved in the BRAIN Initiative. The BRAIN Initiative had a bunch of technicians testify, so I think both things are going on.

But the bulk of the funding is in the bottom-up one, because that's where the bulk of the expenses are, in these very expensive instruments, building them and building the next generation of instruments.

DR. SEJNOWSKI: Can I add something?

Just very briefly, to address Nita's question about whether this is the right approach. And I think that's a legitimate question, and it's been very actively debated. Our working group met over the summer, 48 consultants and it's -- there are many approaches, and why take this one?

So the penny dropped on our last meeting, which was about humans. And I was very impressed with the progress that's been made in deep brain stimulation, already mentioned. And its ability to be able to alleviate some of the symptoms of Parkinson's, depression, Steve Hyman was mentioning this. And the technology that's being used there is 30 years old, and the reason is that in order be able to approve something by the FDA takes a hundred million dollars to put into a human, and so they're using, as Calla Maber put it, a cattle prod, which is like a huge finger with a millimeter wide thing. And you know, we can do so much better if we could improve, just taking today's technology and be able to selectively stimulate particular pathways, particular types of neurons. I think there's a tremendous potential here, which goes beyond the pharmaceutical approach of just one drug fits all, but rather to go in and selectively stimulate particular parts of the brain, particular pathways. And that's going to create a different approach which has been called the "electroceutical" approach.

So I think that having that knowledge of the circuitry will allow us to develop the tools that we need to be able to intervene in a way to help patients.

DR. CHUN: If I can add just, you know, short addition comment.

Is that we realize that funding is very scarce, and so I think we should utilize as many opportunities as we can. For example, in the case of European Commission, they have what's called human brain project, large initiative all around Europe. And there, they're focusing on more of the stimulation of a brain, and therefore they are going to focus more on theory side, modeling side and so on. So there's a huge leadership activity now from OSTP, hoping to collaborate with European Commission, and our endeavor together.

So these are the other ways I think that we can perhaps manage your question.

DR. ARRAS: Okay. Thanks very much.

Dr. Koch, you dropped a couple of really interesting bombs that I can't resist following up on these, okay?

One is, I'm quite familiar with the notion of reductionism with regard to, you know, consciousness. A romantic reductionist is a concept I'd never heard before. I'd love to hear more about that. What do you mean by that?

Second -- the second issue is this, you mentioned sensation in the dish, okay? Yes, sentience in the dish. So one question is, is there a difference between electrical activity between neurons and what we would call pain or sensation? And is there a relationship between that and sorts of sensations that come under the purview of ethics? In other words, what is the model available? It's a free-floating electrical activity?

DR. KOCH: Okay. So there's this -- as Amy mentioned, Socrates -- I know that I don't know. So -- but few things we do know for sure about consciousness and the mind-body problem, which we have done since Socrates. One thing, there is this intimate relationship between electrical activity in specific parts of our brain and specific conscious perception.

We know this partly through neurosurgery, through DBS or other neuro-stimulating device. You can stimulate particular parts of the brain and you can evoke -- depending when, and the exact protocol, you can evoke specific memories or specific conscious perception. And every day in the lab, we see this, that you can put people in a magnetic scan and we can see when they have states of pain or pleasure or see or hear, particular parts of the brain are active.

So ultimately, it is going to be bioelectrical activity of a yet-to-be-determined, unknown nature, people are fighting, you know, what's the exact nature of the typical signature of consciousness? But everybody agrees, I mean, scientists or the philosopher that study this do agree ultimately that the substrate of your conscious sensation is biochemical, bioelectrical activity. So that brings the question, if we built networks and these networks are large and complex and begin to be integrated, not just random, but begin to show integrated activity like

waves and oscillation and synchrony and ignition, et cetera, that raise the question, does this network feel like something?

DR. GUTMANN: Just because one of the things I think we would like to do as the Bioethics Commission is make sure that in order to help this science progress, it accurately states what it knows and what it doesn't know and what the potential is. And what you said is accurate, that the neural activity is a substrate of -- you know, the brain is the substrate of the mind.

That said, we still don't understand, and it may be a puzzle, it will in all likelihood be a puzzle that lasts for a long time. What the -- you know, our language -- you know, what our language adds to -- and our -- you know, our cognition adds to the circuitry, that's going on in the brain. In other words, we're talking now, and we're communicating not through brain -- I mean, our brains have things going on, but we're communicating through words. That's a mystery, since we are social animals. That's a mystery that will continue to be a mystery after, you know, all the mapping is done.

It may -- I mean, it's -- we'd love to solve that mystery as well. So you look puzzled by what I've just said, but I'm not puzzled by what you just said. I think what you said is right.

DR. KOCH: Well, I'm only puzzled in as far as, if you look at language in the part of the brain that's about language, they appear to be no different than the part of the brain that's about vision or anything else.

DR. GUTMANN: Right. That's all correct. But --

DR. KOCH: It's basically all the same stuff.

DR. GUTMANN: Correct. But that's a puzzle, isn't it? Because language is different than vision.

DR. KOCH: Yeah. But so is addition and so is math. I mean, it's all different capabilities of the underlying, same underlying tissue.

DR. GUTMANN: But our language distinguishes us from other creatures.

DR. KOCH: That's true.

DR. GUTMANN: Our sight is poorer than a lot of other creatures, our smell is poorer than a lot of creatures, and our language is incredibly well developed. And maybe there's another creature, you know, who speaks a language that we don't understand at all. Dolphins certainly. But what we know is that language matters a lot, and the language of pushing science forward and pushing ethical science forward is the medium that we communicate in.

And the only reason I'm saying this is, you began by quickly saying, quickly, you know, we have to know what we don't know. I think it's really important to demystify what the great progress that's going to be going on, and make sure we don't scare people into thinking we think we know what we don't know.

DR. WAGNER: Terry, do you want to comment on that?

DR. SEJNOWSKI: Yeah. I really understand the issues you're raising, and again this is -- I'm going to be. But you know, the bottom-up view, as Christof view, which is that somehow the activity arising from the patterns of connections and neurons gives rise to thoughts and language.

But it actually -- it's two-way. In other words, you have a thought, it's going to affect the molecules, and it's going to do that through mechanisms that we actually are beginning to understand, which is synaptic plasticity. So you know, the -- and language, when I talk to you, it's activating part of your auditory system which then indexes your language areas, which then is going to have permanent changes in your physical brain which is going to allow you to remember what -- something that you heard here today.

So I'm just saying, you really have --

DR. GUTMANN: There's no disagreement about the physical substrate. If there's any disagreement among thinking people who think about this, it's about what we're now capable of explaining and on the verge of explaining, and what we're not. This doesn't affect at all the capacity and the value of this science to crack issues of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and a lot of other diseases.

DR. WAGNER: You're advocating for an intellectual humility as we move forward. Yeah, Dan?

DR. SULMASY: Moving the mind/body problem to another ethical question. I heard Dr. Sejnowski talking about the use of non-human primates. And I just want to flag that as an important ethical and policy issue. Particularly, as you're probably aware, quite recently, due to an IOM report and an NIH panel, the use of chimpanzees has been almost effectively banned for federal funding.

So the question for the -- for you and for the rest is, how important will the use of non-human primates be in this sort of research? And then secondly, are you worried about these sorts of trends at the federal level, and in particular will it push this kind of research into the private sector? Is that a good or a bad thing? What are the consequences of that as a policy?

DR. SEJNOWSKI: So I was really concerned about this NIH policy, and I understand it. There's a lot of other strategic issues involved here. But I can say that without being able to have access with the tools and techniques that are being developed, that cannot be

used. We cannot do genetic experiments on humans. But if we can't do them in non-human primates, then there are going to be questions that we will not be able to answer that actually getting to the very issues that we raise here.

And so I think it's incredibly important that we identify those questions. It's not just for any questions, there are some that the mouse are perfectly good for answering, and others which the fly is perfectly good for answering. But there are some for which we're not going to have any answers at all unless we can have access to these very, very valuable species. And I think part of the backlash was perhaps that the ethical considerations about using chimps weren't properly prepared, and therefore they couldn't justify some of the experiments that were being done. I don't know.

I'm just saying that now is the time for us to properly prepare. And I really do think -- I devoted all my time to this because of the fact that I think this one issue is so important.

DR. KUCHERLAPATI: Thank you. Thank you very much for your presentations.

I mean, the premise that we're considering today is that incorporation of ethical principles and thinking about ethics into neuroscience, you know, would enable us to be able to do better. And each of you have provided examples of what your institutions are doing.

The question for each of you is the following: What are your observations so far? Has this incorporation of ethical principles and thinking about that, has it changed in a practical way? Can you give specific examples of how it has changed the research or enhanced it, or you think it would enhance it in your institutions?

DR. KOCH: Yeah, I can give you one very concrete example.

So we thought about the -- so as I mentioned before, we have those brain absences out there, so in 6 years or so, we've done a thousand microarray each in a thousand different location in these brains. So it's a lot of information. We've thought a lot about the issue of could these individuals be identified? And you know, would there be adverse consequences for their living next of kin? And so therefore, for example, we have not put the genomic information, we've not put sequence information online.

Now we have made it available for a few select researchers who have asked us specifically, and we have research protocols there, so that's one concrete example where these consideration have directly affected, we had endless discussion about this issue within the institute and with our outside advisors. We are now starting an ELSI program because as we go forward we want to sort of be -- preempt these issues and think about them before we actually start doing the science.

DR. GUTMANN: Could I -- Christof gave another example with the question you're asking about the Petri dish, which is really important for people to come to terms with. When is sentience? That -- it's a scientific and an ethical question combined. It's very helpful, I think, when scientists are aware.

DR. CHUN: So from the Kavli Foundation, we do not have our own operating research institute, so we -- all our research institutes are embedded within a large university setting, and therefore we rely on those universities' capacity to manage ethical issues.

What we're observing is that every university seems to have different level of attentiveness in what bioethics means. And I really am looking forward to this Commission to really provide some guideline that is standardized so then every university can perhaps practice these issues as more standardized manner as they can.

DR. WAGNER: If you had that information as a funder, would you contemplate a requirement in proposals and in performance?

DR. CHUN: So we haven't yet, but I would like to also mention one of the reasons why we haven't.

The Kavli Foundation is very cognizant about putting research in fully fundamental basic research. And in our minds, restricting or fearing scientists surely doesn't encourage creativity and innovative thinking, and so we try our best not to come up with what they can and cannot do. You need to abide this rule, you need to -- and so on and so forth. That philosophy, we had not been engaged in that way, at least that's our thought for the moment.

DR. WAGNER: So you imagine ethics being a potential restriction in this case?

DR. CHUN: So, I myself had --

DR. WAGNER: No, that's not -- I'm going to take that back. That's not a fair question.

DR. CHUN: Okay, yeah.

DR. WAGNER: That's not a fair question.

Terrence, would you --

DR. SEJNOWSKI: So the Salk Institute is a basic research institute about half devoted to neuroscience. I’ve already mentioned that we have one of the world's leading centers for studying monkey vision.

Recently I have started collaborating with a group at MGH which records from human beings that have been implanted with electrodes in the course of studying epilepsy in

their brains that are intractable to drugs. And I have to say, this has completely changed my whole view of research because, as you can imagine, you know, doing an experiment on a human being that's talking to you is very different from putting electrodes into a monkey. And it's really caused me to rethink a lot of, you know, what I'm doing, and a lot of the soul searching that, in fact, is beginning to happen. It has already happened with -- in fact, Christof was one of the pioneers in recording from humans. He famously discovered the Jennifer Aniston cell.


DR. SEJNOWSKI: And -- sorry, Christof.

But we now routinoly record from humans for two weeks straight, from hundreds of areas of the brain, depth electrodes. And I have to say that scientifically this is a gold mine. This is like, you know -- and this is -- there are 200 centers where this is being done but there's only 20 being studied scientifically. And in our report, we said this is a real opportunity to be able to create teams of people in hospitals, neurosurgeons, scientists, you know, physiologists who understand exactly what questions could be asked and answered. And I really think this is going to revolutionize this opportunity to actually have access to the human brain.

Not only the scientific knowledge, but a lot of the ethical issues that were brought up here. So I think that we should prepare, you know, what if we do not just the Jennifer Anniston cell, what if we do find some -- in fact, okay, here. This is one example, just concrete example.

So that -- this was not the Jennifer Anniston, it was a Halle Berry cell, right, in the temporal lobe. And it responded not just to pictures of Halle Berry in many different poses and different images and different configurations, but to her name. You know, the name in English. So that suggests this is not an image, it's not a -- it's just a -- it's not a visual cell, it's a conceptual Halle Berry cell.

So this is really getting into something, you know, semantics, to meaning.

DR. ALLEN: I originally had exactly the question that was raised about the animals, the monkeys. And I was thinking about the monkeys on the one hand, and then the issues that Dr. Gutmann raised about human exceptionalism and language and how -- what we know about the substrate won't necessarily tell us much about the mysteries of life.

So I guess where I want to go now is someplace we haven't gone at all, it's about the mysteries of life. Because why do we care about the monkeys? You know, I think it has something to do with our concern about cruelty to animals. And why do we care about humans who -- on whom these very same experiments might be performed? It's not just because we care about cruelty, it's also because we care about controlling or interfering with the brain because it's the substrate of the mind.

And furthermore, we care about experimenting with humans because we care about the mind, about spirit, about possible religious values and interfering with the brain somehow evokes concerns that may go to our religious -- we are a public commission, we don't have sectarian principles that we are guided by. But we know that the community, the public worries about these religious kinds of values.

So I'm wondering whether a kind of a nice sort of summary of what's at issue with the monkeys is that, one, we care about cruelty to animals; two, we care about how the experiments on animals might lead to inhumane mind-controlling experiments on human beings, whether that's true or not. I think people worry about that. And then three, there are concerns about mind and spirit that affect people's religious values, and there might be some concerns here about ultimately doing something to undermine our religious beliefs and values.

So I just wanted the panel to comment on that sort of taxonomy, also to directly address these questions about people's religious concerns and how they affect, for example, willingness to donate their brains for scientific purposes.

DR. WAGNER: That actually will be our last set of questions for you. Please answer.

DR. KOCH: So as scientists, I think we ought to be concerned with the suffering of all conscious creatures, whether it's human or non-human, because we're all nature's children, we're all in this. And so therefore, I think what you said is correct, we need to be concerned with animal cruelty, that we don't do injustice to the animals. They are -- including mice and monkeys, they're all conscious creatures, they all share some of the pains and pleasures of life. They don't have insight, they don't have self-consciousness, that seems to be something associated with higher primates, particularly us. But they are sentient, so I think we should conduct all of our experiments accordingly.

I give a lot of talks on the subject of consciousness, and yes, you're right, people are afraid that somehow numerous times, when each the meaning of their religious sensibilities and their spirituality, I beg to differ, that's why I call myself romantic reductionist. I think you can have a variety of ethical and spiritual beliefs while still believing that ultimately consciousness and the -- you said the secrets of life, are -- is tied to the brain. And it's our mission as scientists to try to communicate the wonders of this to the general public, including the fact that you can be a spiritual person and still do all this neuro-scientific research.

DR. ALLEN: Thank you.

DR. SEJNOWSKI: So first of all, I want to thank you for raising this issue, because it is something that is incredibly important for the public. And so my mother is a very religious person, she went to church every day. And you know, I told her what I did, you know, she would question, you know, how is this related to, you know, the -- to God? And I have to

say, I didn't really have a good answer for her. She's no longer here, but I have to -- I do have to say that I agree with Christof, that you can be a scientist and be spiritual. And understand that there's something we don't understand that is very deeply mysterious, about not just the human brain but the brains of all creatures.

So I think that's -- we have to be humble in the face of this mystery.

DR. GUTMANN: I just want to say something, and thanks to you all. And to -- on behalf of the Bioethics Commission, we see our role both in helping move the neuroscience, in general, as well as the BRAIN Initiative forward in a number of ways. And I'll just mention two because time is short.

One is we all want to do the right thing in our professional lives, and so it's obviously important to move neuroscience forward in an ethically correct way.

But the other, which is if you will extremely practical is that, if we can work together and integrate ethics into neurosciences, as you exemplify, by the way, in a thoughtful way. But we need to make sure all institutions do that. We can facilitate the intellectual freedom and progress of the science. There's nothing, nothing that grinds an enterprise, and scientific enterprise is no exception to this, to a halt than egregious, you know, unethical publicly, you know. And it will get a lot of attention.

And I just want to thank you all for both your support of this BRAIN Initiative, but you're taking this really seriously. And I can assure you, we will work with you and make sure they come up with the kind of recommendations that are deserving of recognizing that good science and good ethics go together.

DR. WAGNER: And that is our last word. Let us thank our panel.

DR. GUTMANN: Thank you.

DR. WAGNER: Thank you so much.


DR. WAGNER: And I believe we reconvene at 1:00.

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